Trolley Buses aren’t the solution to Montreal’s transit needs

There has been lots of talk about using trolley buses instead of trams for Montreal’s plan de transport.  I’m not one of them.   Trolley buses have fewer advantages than people expect. On a one-to-one replacement basis, they are just buses that don’t emit CO2.

Being simply buses that run on electricity, they have the same disadvantages as diesel buses.

Trolleys buses are no faster than regular diesel buses. Therefore will be no more likely to convince people to change their travel habits.

Trolley buses require two contact wires above the bus resulting in complicated and ugly wiring. Trams, since they use a pantograph with current return in the rails, only need a single wire resulting in a much more harmonious integration with the city.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, regular diesel buses have considerable advantages over cars already. For an urban environment these are the estimated energy consumption and emissions:

Transport Type



Car (single occupant)



Diesel Bus (full)



Diesel-Electric Hybrid Bus (full):



Electric Bus(full)



Tram (full)



Hydro Quebec and STM

From a greenhouse gas reduction point of view, we need to get people out of their cars. Simply replacing diesel buses with electric (or even hybrid) ones will do very little to convince people to leave their cars at home.

As shown in the table above, Trams also use roughly half as much energy as a bus of any type. Last year, the STM spent 40 million dollars in fuel but only 23 million in electricity for the metro.

Labour costs are a very considerable factor in the operating costs of the STM. According to their 2009 budget, salaries account for 63.7% of the operating costs. Trams are one way of improving the passenger to driver ratio and reducing labour costs since they can transport more people and can even be coupled together to form a double length train but still operated by just one person. Of course, I would want to see those drivers assigned to other routes to improve the overall level of service.

Trams are matched only by metros in the speed in which people can get on and off:

  • A 30m tram will typically have 6 wide doors for entry/exit.
  • Regular Buses have 1 exit and 1 entrance/exit
  • The articulated Buses have 2 exits and 1 entrance/exit

This is another of the reasons why Trams can travel faster – they spend less time stopped picking up passengers.

Trams are definitely the way to go. Lets stop talking about it and just do it!


Peak Oil Publicity – Finally

The Gazette had a front page story about Peak Oil this Saturday. This is the first time to my knowledge this subject has been given such high visibility to the general public. Le Devoir has reprinted some AFP stories but this subject has a lot less visibility in Canada compared to Europe.

In my opinion this is a subject long overdue to be publicized to the general public. I’ve actually read quite a bit about this issue and my first letter to the editor in July 2007 was about this subject.

Most people assume that we have years and years of oil before we “run out”.  The “run out” number is typically calculated by dividing the estimated reserves by the current production to arrive at a certain number of years. The implication of this is that everything will continue as normal until the magic day when oil will just stop flowing completely. The reality is much different and alarming.

The production of oil has been shown to generally follow a bell curve for individual wells, individual fields and entire countries. What remains is to show it for the entire world which has not happened yet but is only a matter of time. Our society’s problems will instead begin when the available supply starts to decline (or peak) not when it “runs out”.

Another dynamic was well illustrated last year when oil skyrocketed to 150$ a barrel. People seem to think that you just poke a hole in the ground and oil just bursts out of the ground. This used to happen but not any more. Oil that is being found today is much harder to get than in the past and requires sophisticated technologies and a lot of money to finally bring it into production. Declining production from the easy oil and more expensive new oil will combine to push oil prices very high in the future.

Why is this important?

  • Oil is used for 95% of all energy used for transportation
  • Oil represents 43% of all fuel consumption.
  • Our agriculture is heavily reliant on oil: for every joule of food energy consumed, 10 joules of fossil fuel energy is consumed.

This is an issue that every citizen should become informed about and demand action from their representatives at every level of government.

What can you do as an individual?

  • In the short term you can switch to a more fuel-efficient car, reduce the number of cars you own, and start taking public transit.
  • In the long term, you can move to a neighborhood where you are not so dependant upon the car where you can walk to various activities and shops.

Our government needs to play a larger role to stop encouraging car use by:

  • Stopping building highways and bridges that encourage people to live further away from their jobs.
  • Investing in public transit infrastructure such as tramways, metros, buses, inter-city trains.

We need to take action now to be ready when the crisis hits.  So far, unfortunately, not much as been done.

If you are interested in this subject here are some books that will make you think:

And some Web sites:

Problems with AMT’s leased cars

The Gazette is reporting that the doors of the cars that the AMT has rented from New Jersey Transit (NJT) don’t always open properly.

I’ve seen some of these rented cars in Vendome station and they are mixing the cars within existing trains.  I’ve noticed that the doors are configured for both high and low level platforms but there is no door cover over the steps that are used for low level platforms.

Perhaps snow is getting into the door mechanism?

They have been painted with a basic AMT logo but here is what they looked like before: Locos & Car in Montreal & Car in service in NJ

According to this, AMT has rented 7 Locos and 14 Comet IB coaches at a price of 15,000 $US per car per year for a total price of 420,000 $US for two years. Seems like a bargain – if they work!

STM gives an early Christmas present to Families

Note: No, I haven’t disappeared or died.  I’ve been busy working on this.

Starting on December 6th, up to 5 children will be able to travel for free on the STM network during weekends and holidays if they are accompanied by an adult.

This type of program was requested several months ago by a municipal politician (sorry can’t find a reference) and it seems that it worked.

I will definitely take advantage of this program as I like to bring my children downtown on the weekend.   But when I travel with my wife we often take the car because it is cheaper.

My situation:

2 parents (1 with a CAM) + 1 child (7 years old) + 1 child (4 years old)

  • Round trip cost before: 6.16 $
  • Round trip cost now: 4 $

With just me (with a CAM) & my children

  • Round trip cost before: 2.16 $
  • Round trip cost now: FREE

I’m sure lots of other parents will come to the same conclusion!

Here are the announcements:

STM (French)
STM (English)
Le Devoir

Media Day for the New Metro Cars

STM had a media day about the new tender for the metro cars to replace the MR63.

Reported here: The Gazette and Le Devoir

Since I do work for Alstom, I can only offer my personal opinion about the features of the cars.

Full gangway between the cars:

  • This adds a lot of flexibility and spreads out the passengers
  • Better chance of getting a seat.
  • STM will have to operate the 9-car sets all the time though.
  • I’ve been on the NS-93 in Chile (practically the same design as the MP-89 in Paris) that have them and I was impressed

Air Conditioning:

  • Bad idea.  Montreal’s climate doesn’t justify the expense for only a few months of the year.
  • What people forget is that air conditioning only moves heat around.
  • The tunnels and the stations will be hotter – then people will demand air conditioning in the stations as well (big $)
  • A better way to reduce the heat in the tunnels would be to have regenerative braking but this requires changes to the track power supply.  It would save quite a bit of electricity though!

3 doors/car:

  • From a maintenance point of view it is better because there will 25% less chance of a door on the train malfunctioning
  • The doors will be wider than they are right now so that will compensate for their reduced number
  • The doors all need to be equally spaced (including from one car to the next) this will allow the future addition of platform screen doors in the stations.
  • As they say in the story, recycling of each door independantly if they are not closed will greatly improve the dwell time at the stations.

Interior Noise

  • I’m sure that the current trains are nowhere near the current standard for allowable noise levels.  The newer trains need to be a lot quieter.

Surveilance Cameras

  • This is a standard feature on metros today.
  • It should increase the sense of security of the passengers

Door close warning

  • I don’t think it adds that much – you just get an earlier warning (1 or 2 seconds) that the doors will close.

I can’t wait to start working on this tender when it finally is issued!

Sneek Peek at the NDG-CDN Bike Path Proposal

Although the NDG bike path will be publicly announced on June 19th, a look at the city’s official ‘Plan de Transport’ (approved on June 11th) gives a sneek peek.

Here are the main projects for the NDG area (there are others for CDN as well):

NDG bike paths

1. Complete the de Maisonneuve bike path from DeCarie to Claremount to travel through Westmount.

  • The CHUM mega-hospital project needs to start and the CP Decarie overpass needs to be modified.  This won’t be ready until at least 2010.

2. Cavendish from de Maisonneuve to St-Laurent

  • Requires the Cavendish over pass to be completed before it can go further than Cote-St-Luc

3. From Concordia North on W. Broadway until Fielding and then east until Ellerdale and then to Isabella to eventually arrive at UdeM.

  • Can be implemented now

4. Terrebonne from Concordia University to Girouard.

  • Can be implemented now

5. Grand Blvd (not 100% sure but it makes sense since it is so wide) up from de-Maisoneuve until Fielding

  • Can be implemented now

6. Girouard (& Clanranald/Earnscliffe) from de Maisonneuve all the way up to Ferncroft where it turns east to use Barclay/Plamondon until Wilderton.

  • Can be implemented now

The full map can be seen on page 107 of (this link)  (40MB download – high quality maps)

The other question is what kind of paths will they be?  Here are four types with their evaluation according to Projet Montreal (page 26 of this document)

Bike path Comparison

Happy Cycling!

UPDATE (July 1): The official Presentation from the City
Avid Cyclist Peter McQueen of Projet Montreal has his comments

Transit Improvement Ideas

The STM customer service committee held a public meeting in NDG on May 14th and yours truly was there!

Fagstein has his take here.

Some of you might find some of the suggestions self-centered, however, I can only talk about the issues that I know about.  I’m sure there are other annoyances on other bus routes arround the city.  Having said that, here are the suggestions that I made to the committee:

More reserved bus lanes

The plan de transport issued by the city has identified 40 km of roads that will have priority measures for buses implemented over the next 10 years.  However, since the plan was issued and approved by the city and agglomeration council last year no routes have been put in place.

In order to be effective, there is no need for expensive traffic light preemption systems.  Simply paint some lines on the road!

Improve the Côte-Vertu and Gothier intersection

The current configuration of the Côte-Vertu and Gothier intersection does not permit most of the buses that terminate at the new AMT Côte-Vertu bus terminal to use the reserved lane between Marcel-Laurin and Decarie.  It is not unusual to have buses stuck in traffic for several traffic light cycles before being able to turn left onto Gothier.

Buses that need to turn left and cannot use the reserved lane:

  • 70, 174, 177, 213, 215, 216, 225, 470

Buses that can use the reserved lane

  • 121, 171

In order to improve the situation and to improve the bus flow in the intersection the following modifications should be made:


  • Move the stop line for the 3 non-bus lanes (shown in red below)
  • Implement a priority bus green light for the right-most bus lane to allow buses to turn left across the other three lanes of traffic.

These changes will allow all the buses that that stop at the AMT Côte-Vertu bus terminal to use the reserved lane.

Improve communication between Montreal and the STM

In the peak of the winter, there was a portion of the bus route #213 that had only been snow plowed but not actually cleared for two weeks.  The day after the snow fall, the STM diverted the buses to a parallel road.  For the first week I accepted it because there was obviously a lot of snow and there were lots of areas that needed the snow clearing more. 

The bus diversion caused many people to walk extra distance in a narrow street (twice as narrow as normal).  There were several near-accidents that I witnessed that were caused by drivers not being considerate to the people walking on the street.

However, after seven days, I got a bit frustrated and called the STM’s compliant line.  The call centre staff were very polite but told me that they were aware of the problem but they could not tell the city to intervene to remove the snow – only citizens could complain to the ‘311’ line. 

After I spoke to the staff at the city’s call centre (also very polite), I was told that streets in industrial areas have the same level of priority as residential streets and streets with bus routes get no extra consideration. 

During the course of the 2nd week there were some segments of the streets in the area that were cleared but they were not the ones that were causing the bus diversions.  This tells me that the City is not told of problems that affect STM bus services.

During the second week I called back two other times to say that the street had still not been cleared.  I was called back to be informed that the snow would be removed on the weekend.

My return to work on the 14th day after the storm was pleasant because the city had in fact removed the snow over the weekend.

STM Operations Center should work together with the borough public works departments to make sure that the buses run smoothly!

Install Clocks at Main Bus Terminals

If clocks were installed at main bus terminals, all the user groups, from COs, drivers and passengers would all be able to know if the scheduled bus is early, late or on time.

All too often, everyone looks at their watch to know when the bus is coming.  If everyone’s watch was synchronized to a central reference then there would be no problem.  The reality is that the driver’s watch may be several minutes faster or slower than the passengers waiting.

Optimize bus routes

There are many bus routes that are absolutely jammed for portions of the route and then empty out only after a few stops to a reasonable level of crowding.  In my personal experience, the ’90 – St-Jacques’ afternoon service from Vendome east-bound is very crowded.  However, by my stop, there are far more people that get off than get on for the portion Vendome to Madison.  A 90X limited stop service that goes from Vendome along St-Jacques but turns North onto Cavendish to return back to Vendome like a 105-Sherbrooke would allow about 3 additional departures per hour per additional bus. 

Similarly the 213 west-bound morning service from Cote-Vertu has a reasonable level but an uneven service pattern.  Once it has departed Cote-Vertu terminal, almost nobody gets on or off the bus over the portion of the route that is duplicated by the 121.  The average service speed of the route could then be improved by eliminating stops on this portion of the route.

More Express Bus routes

In comparison with other North American cities, Montreal has very few limited stop or short turn bus routes.  I think the STM can do more to compete with cars on certain routes.  The evolution of the 470 Fairview-Cote Vertu route is a perfect example:

  • March, 2005 – The 470 was introduced as only a rush-hour service
  • October, 2007 – Expanded to an all-day service
  • March, 2008 – Expanded again to add service until 9pm (instead of previously 7pm)
  • May, 2008 – Weekend service added

Can we find another example of this elsewhere on the island?

Congratulations to all the other citizens that care about their city that took that time to come out to the meeting!

New and Improved Highway Notre-Dame?

The MTQ has announced improvements to their Notre-Dame Highway plan which are just a grab-bag of things that will happen anyway or things that don’t cost much to do.  The fundamental existence of the highway is not questioned at all.

To me, it further demonstrates how cynical the MTQ is in selling this project to the population.

Here is the list of improvements in all their glory with my thoughts about each one:

Extra High Occupancy Lane in each direction

  • Now there will be a dedicated taxi/HOV lane in addition to the dedicated bus lane in each direction
  • The HOV lane will only require 2 people per car to qualify – Nothing special here. Many cities require 3 occupants.
  • How many of the cars travelling on the highway would have had 2 occupants anyway?  The Montreal Board of Trade in their December 2004 report used the rate of 1.26 occupants/car. 
  • This means that 25% of the cars will have 33% percent of the lanes the day after the highway opens – not much to brag since people are already car pooling even without the incentive. 
  • This will improve travel time for a car-pooler in the short term – until drivers re-adjust.

The Notre-Dame Highway will be integrated with the Pie-IX bus corridor Project

  • The MTQ is now taking credit for the STM/AMT Pie-IX SRB project!!
  • Even if Notre-Dame Highway doesn’t happen, the SRB would still use Notre-Dame to get to the city centre. 
  • This is really stretching the truth to imagine that the SRB is even related to the highway.

Pilot Project for Photo radar on Notre-Dame

  • This has nothing to do with the highway at all!
  • This will only be a mobile installation that can easily be moved to another location.

Traffic Calming Measures in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

  • Here the City is repeating its commitment to spend 150M$ to calm the traffic on the neighboring streets.
  • This is not new money – just a re-announcement of old money.

Improvements in frequency for the 22, 34, and 150 bus lines.

  • There is no reason to get excited about this since it has nothing to do with the highway either!  The last STM meeting also announced improvements to the 515, 470, 194, 268, and 220. 
  • Are these also because the MTQ increased funding for the STM?  Who’s to say that the funding might disappear in the future once the project has started?  
  • The STM will increase service where it is needed and decrease service where it is not.  If the 22, 34 and 150 need extra buses it is because the ridership is calling for it.

Larger Parks

  • The concrete slab over the highway will be slightly bigger than before to improve access to Bellerive and Morgan/Champetre.
  • I live near the Decarie Highway and I can assure you that nobody will want to play in a park next to a 8 lane highway except undesirable elements.

A Steering Committee will be formed

  • Is there a project that costs 750$M that doesn’t have a steering committee?  This is approaching contortionism.

These announcements are nothing more than very minor cosmetic changes or completely unassociated announcements.   This project has to be stopped!


STM Hybrid Buses on the Road!

The STM hybrid buses operating out of the Lasalle garage have been seen around NDG for the past week or so and I got to ride on one of them this afternoon.

You can identify them by the big hybrid sticker on the side that looks like an electricity plug (no they are not plug-in hybrids though) and by the much bigger bump on the roof. According to the STM, there are 8 buses being used for a trial (bus numbers 28-701 to 28-708)

Here is the STM announcement.

As we were driving along, I asked the driver what they were like and he seemed to be pretty impressed by the performance.

  • 40% cut in fuel consumption (50L/100km compared to 80L of a typical bus).
  • Very quiet operation.  Up to about 30km/h the bus is entirely electric.
  • The transmission blends the two power sources depending on the speed and acceleration required
  • Regenerative braking recharges the batteries when slowing down (trains can have this feature too)
  • The ride seemed very smooth and I could barely hear the diesel engine cutting in when it reached 30km/h (I was in the front however).
  • A great benefit for pedestrians nearby: No great cloud of diesel fumes when the bus leaves the stop!

The technical details can be found here.

I hope the STM buys more!

We Need Bike Storage Lockers at Metro Stations

Many people never even think to ride their bike to the metro because they don’t think that the storage lockers are safe. Bicycle lockers could be used to allow people to make part of their commuting trip by bike.

Translink in Vancouver uses bike lockers like these that seem to work quite well.

Bike Lockers in use in Vancouver

Admittedly, the lockers would be significantly less used in the winter but perhaps with a bit of encouragement (reseau blanc) people would use them.

How it works:

  1. You inquire if there are available lockers at the metro (or other location) where you want to store your bike.
  2. If there is space available, you can sign up for the use of the locker on a seasonal or monthly basis.
  3. You get a key and a dedicated and secure parking space (covered) for your bike (and all your expensive accessories) whenever you want it.
  4. Once the rental contract is over, the lock is changed by the transit operator and a new renter can use the space.

The idea is in the Plan de Transport (page 82) and works well in Vancouver!